Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac.. - HTML preview
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All through the war Kolb sat on a chair in the doorway, acting as watch-dog, when David had nothing else for him to do. It was Kolb who received all the notifications, and a clerk of Petit-Claud's kept watch over Kolb. No sooner were the placards announcing the auction put up on the premises than Kolb tore them down; he hurried round the town after the bill-poster, tearing the placards from the walls.
"Ah, scountrels!" he cried, "to dorment so goot a man; and they calls it chustice!"
Marion made half a franc a day by working half time in a paper mill as a machine tender, and her wages contributed to the support of the household. Mme. Chardon went back uncomplainingly to her old occupation, sitting up night after night, and bringing home her wages at the end of the week. Poor Mme. Chardon! Twice already she had made a nine days' prayer for those she loved, wondering that God should be deaf to her petitions, and blind to the light of the candles on His altar.
On the 2nd of September, a letter came from Lucien, the first since the letter of the winter, which David had kept from his wife's knowledge--the announcement of the three bills which bore David's signature. This time Lucien wrote to Eve.
"The third since he left us!" she said. Poor sister, she was afraid to open the envelope that covered the fatal sheet.
She was feeding the little one when the post came in; they could not afford a wet-nurse now, and the child was being brought up by hand.
Her state of mind may be imagined, and David's also, when he had been roused to read the letter, for David had been at work all night, and only lay down at daybreak.
Lucien to Eve.
"PARIS, August 29th.
"MY DEAR SISTER,--Two days ago, at five o'clock in the morning, one of God's noblest creatures breathed her last in my arms; she was the one woman on earth capable of loving me as you and mother and David love me, giving me besides that unselfish affection, something that neither mother nor sister can give--the utmost bliss of love. Poor Coralie, after giving up everything for my sake, may perhaps have died for me--for me, who at this moment have not the wherewithal to bury her. She could have solaced my life; you, and you alone, my dear good angels, can console me for her death. God has forgiven her, I think, the innocent girl, for she died like a Christian. Oh, this Paris! Eve, Paris is the glory and the shame of France. Many illusions I have lost here already, and I have others yet to lose, when I begin to beg for the little money needed before I can lay the body of my angel in consecrated earth.
"Your unhappy brother,
"P. S. I must have given you much trouble by my heedlessness; some day you will know all, and you will forgive me. You must be quite easy now; a worthy merchant, a M. Camusot, to whom I once caused cruel pangs, promised to arrange everything, seeing that Coralie and I were so much distressed."
"The sheet is still moist with his tears," said Eve, looking at the letter with a heart so full of sympathy that something of the old love for Lucien shone in her eyes.
"Poor fellow, he must have suffered cruelly if he has been loved as he says!" exclaimed Eve's husband, happy in his love; and these two forgot all their own troubles at this cry of a supreme sorrow. Just at that moment Marion rushed in.
"Madame," she panted, "here they are! Here they are!"
"Who is here?"
"Doublon and his men, bad luck to them! Kolb will not let them come in; they have come to sell us up."
"No, no, they are not going to sell you up, never fear," cried a voice in the next room, and Petit-Claud appeared upon the scene. "I have just lodged notice of appeal. We ought not to sit down under a judgment that attaches a stigma of bad faith to us. I did not think it worth while to fight the case here. I let Cachan talk to gain time for you; I am sure of gaining the day at Poitiers----"
"But how much will it cost to win the day?" asked Mme. Sechard.
"Fees if you win, one thousand francs if we lose our case."
"Oh, dear!" cried poor Eve; "why, the remedy is worse than the disease!"
Petit-Claud was not a little confused at this cry of innocence enlightened by the progress of the flames of litigation. It struck him too that Eve was a very beautiful woman. In the middle of the discussion old Sechard arrived, summoned by Petit-Claud. The old man's presence in the chamber where his little grandson in the cradle lay smiling at misfortune completed the scene. The young attorney at once addressed the newcomer with:
"You owe me seven hundred francs for the interpleader, Papa Sechard; but you can charge the amount to your son in addition to the arrears of rent."
The vinedresser felt the sting of the sarcasm conveyed by Petit-Claud's tone and manner.
"It would have cost you less to give security for the debt at first,"
said Eve, leaving the cradle to greet her father-in-law with a kiss.
David, quite overcome by the sight of the crowd outside the house (for Kolb's resistance to Doublon's men had collected a knot of people), could only hold out a hand to his father; he did not say a word.
"And how, pray, do I come to owe you seven hundred francs?" the old man asked, looking at Petit-Claud.
"Why, in the first place, I am engaged by you. Your rent is in question; so, as far as I am concerned, you and our debtor are one and the same person. If your son does not pay my costs in the case, you must pay them yourself.--But this is nothing. In a few hours David will be put in prison; will you allow him to go?"
"What does he owe?"
"Something like five or six thousand francs, besides the amounts owing to you and to his wife."
The speech roused all the old man's suspicions at once. He looked round the little blue-and-white bedroom at the touching scene before his eyes--at a beautiful woman weeping over a cradle, at David bowed down by anxieties, and then again at the lawyer. This was a trap set for him by that lawyer; perhaps they wanted to work upon his paternal feelings, to get money out of him? That was what it all meant. He took alarm. He went over to the cradle and fondled the child, who held out both little arms to him. No heir to an English peerage could be more tenderly cared for than this little one in that house of trouble; his little embroidered cap was lined with pale pink.
"Eh! let David get out of it as best he may. I am thinking of this child here," cried the old grandfather, "and the child's mother will approve of that. David that knows so much must know how to pay his debts."
"Now I will just put your meaning into plain language," said Petit-Claud ironically. "Look here, Papa Sechard, you are jealous of your son. Hear the truth! you put David into his present position by selling the business to him for three times its value. You ruined him to make an extortionate bargain! Yes, don't you shake your head; you sold the newspaper to the Cointets and pocketed all the proceeds, and that was as much as the whole business was worth. You bear David a grudge, not merely because you have plundered him, but because, also, your own son is a man far above yourself. You profess to be prodigiously fond of your grandson, to cloak your want of feeling for your son and his wife, because you ought to pay down money hic et nunc for them, while you need only show a posthumous affection for your grandson. You pretend to be fond of the little fellow, lest you should be taxed with want of feeling for your own flesh and blood. That is the bottom of it, Papa Sechard."
"Did you fetch me over to hear this?" asked the old man, glowering at his lawyer, his daughter-in-law, and his son in turn.
"Monsieur!" protested poor Eve, turning to Petit-Claud, "have you vowed to ruin us? My husband had never uttered a word against his father." (Here the old man looked cunningly at her.) "David has told me scores of times that you loved him in your way," she added, looking at her father-in-law, and understanding his suspicions.
Petit-Claud was only following out the tall Cointet's instructions. He was widening the breach between the father and son, lest Sechard senior should extricate David from his intolerable position. "The day that David Sechard goes to prison shall be the day of your introduction to Mme. de Senonches," the "tall Cointet" had said no longer ago than yesterday.
Mme. Sechard, with the quick insight of love, had divined Petit-Claud's mercenary hostility, even as she had once before felt instinctively that Cerizet was a traitor. As for David, his astonishment may be imagined; he could not understand how Petit-Claud came to know so much of his father's nature and his own history.
Upright and honorable as he was, he did not dream of the relations between his lawyer and the Cointets; nor, for that matter, did he know that the Cointets were at work behind Metivier. Meanwhile old Sechard took his son's silence as an insult, and Petit-Claud, taking advantage of his client's bewilderment, beat a retreat.
"Good-bye, my dear David; you have had warning, notice of appeal doesn't invalidate the warrant for arrest. It is the only course left open to your creditors, and it will not be long before they take it.
So, go away at once----Or, rather, if you will take my advice, go to the Cointets and see them about it. They have capital. If your invention is perfected and answers the purpose, go into partnership with them. After all, they are very good fellows----"
"Your invention?" broke in old Sechard.
"Why, do you suppose that your son is fool enough to let his business slip away from him without thinking of something else?" exclaimed the attorney. "He is on the brink of the discovery of a way of making paper at a cost of three francs per ream, instead of ten, he tells me."
"One more dodge for taking me in! You are all as thick as thieves in a fair. If David has found out such a plan, he has no need of me--he is a millionaire! Good-bye, my dears, and a good-day to you all," and the old man disappeared down the staircase.
"Find some way of hiding yourself," was Petit-Claud's parting word to David, and with that he hurried out to exasperate old Sechard still further. He found the vinegrower growling to himself outside in the Place du Murier, went with him as far as L'Houmeau, and there left him with a threat of putting in an execution for the costs due to him unless they were paid before the week was out.
"I will pay you if you will show me how to disinherit my son without injuring my daughter-in-law or the boy," said old Sechard, and they parted forthwith.
"How well the 'tall Cointet' knows the folk he is dealing with! It is just as he said; those seven hundred francs will prevent the father from paying seven thousand," the little lawyer thought within himself as he climbed the path to Angouleme. "Still, that old slyboots of a paper-maker must not overreach us; it is time to ask him for something besides promises."
"Well, David dear, what do you mean to do?" asked Eve, when the lawyer had followed her father-in-law.
"Marion, put your biggest pot on the fire!" called David; "I have my secret fast."
At this Eve put on her bonnet and shawl and walking shoes with feverish haste.
"Kolb, my friend, get ready to go out," she said, "and come with me; if there is any way out of this hell, I must find it."
When Eve had gone out, Marion spoke to David. "Do be sensible, sir,"
she said, "or the mistress will fret herself to death. Make some money to pay off your debts, and then you can try to find treasure at your ease----"
"Don't talk, Marion, said David; "I am going to overcome my last difficulty, and then I can apply for the patent and the improvement on the patent at the same time."
This "improvement on the patent" is the curse of the French patentee.
A man may spend ten years of his life in working out some obscure industrial problem; and when he has invented some piece of machinery, or made a discovery of some kind, he takes out a patent and imagines that he has a right to his own invention; then there comes a competitor; and unless the first inventor has foreseen all possible contingencies, the second comer makes an "improvement on the patent"
with a screw or a nut, and takes the whole thing out of his hands. The discovery of a cheap material for paper pulp, therefore, is by no means the conclusion of the whole matter. David Sechard was anxiously looking ahead on all sides lest the fortune sought in the teeth of such difficulties should be snatched out of his hands at the last.
Dutch paper as flax paper is still called, though it is no longer made in Holland, is slightly sized; but every sheet is sized separately by hand, and this increases the cost of production. If it were possible to discover some way of sizing the paper in the pulping-trough, with some inexpensive glue, like that in use to-day (though even now it is not quite perfect), there would be no "improvement on the patent" to fear. For the past month, accordingly, David had been making experiments in sizing pulp. He had two discoveries before him.
Eve went to see her mother. Fortunately, it so happened that Mme.
Chardon was nursing the deputy-magistrate's wife, who had just given the Milauds of Nevers an heir presumptive; and Eve, in her distrust of all attorneys and notaries, took into her head to apply for advice to the legal guardian of widows and orphans. She wanted to know if she could relieve David from his embarrassments by taking them upon herself and selling her claims upon the estate, and besides, she had some hope of discovering the truth as to Petit-Claud's unaccountable conduct. The official, struck with Mme. Sechard's beauty, received her not only with the respect due to a woman but with a sort of courtesy to which Eve was not accustomed. She saw in the magistrate's face an expression which, since her marriage, she had seen in no eyes but Kolb's; and for a beautiful woman like Eve, this expression is the criterion by which men are judged. When passion, or self-interest, or age dims that spark of unquestioning fealty that gleams in a young man's eyes, a woman feels a certain mistrust of him, and begins to observe him critically. The Cointets, Cerizet, and Petit-Claud--all the men whom Eve felt instinctively to be her enemies--had turned hard, indifferent eyes on her; with the deputy-magistrate, therefore, she felt at ease, although, in spite of his kindly courtesy, he swept all her hopes away by his first words.
"It is not certain, madame, that the Court-Royal will reverse the judgment of the court restricting your lien on your husband's property, for payment of moneys due to you by the terms of your marriage-contract, to household goods and chattels. Your privilege ought not to be used to defraud the other creditors. But in any case, you will be allowed to take your share of the proceeds with the other creditors, and your father-in-law likewise, as a privileged creditor, for arrears of rent. When the court has given the order, other points may be raised as to the 'contribution,' as we call it, when a schedule of the debts is drawn up, and the creditors are paid a dividend in proportion to their claims.
"Then M. Petit-Claud is bringing us to bankruptcy," she cried.
"Petit-Claud is carrying out your husband's instructions," said the magistrate; "he is anxious to gain time, so his attorney says. In my opinion, you would perhaps do better to waive the appeal and buy in at the sale the indispensable implements for carrying on the business; you and your father-in-law together might do this, you to the extent of your claim through your marriage contract, and he for his arrears of rent. But that would be bringing the matter to an end too soon perhaps. The lawyers are making a good thing out of your case."
"But then I should be entirely in M. Sechard's father's hands. I should owe him the hire of the machinery as well as the house-rent; and my husband would still be open to further proceedings from M.
Metivier, for M. Metivier would have had almost nothing."
"That is true, madame."
"Very well, then we should be even worse off than we are."
"The arm of the law, madame, is at the creditor's disposal. You have received three thousand francs, and you must of necessity repay the money."
"Oh, sir, can you think that we are capable----" Eve suddenly came to a stop. She saw that her justification might injure her brother.
"Oh! I know quite well that it is an obscure affair, that the debtors on the one side are honest, scrupulous, and even behaving handsomely; and the creditor, on the other, is only a cat's-paw----"
Eve, aghast, looked at him with bewildered eyes.
"You can understand," he continued, with a look full of homely shrewdness, "that we on the bench have plenty of time to think over all that goes on under our eyes, while the gentlemen in court are arguing with each other."
Eve went home in despair over her useless effort. That evening at seven o'clock, Doublon came with the notification of imprisonment for debt. The proceedings had reached the acute stage.
"After this, I can only go out after nightfall," said David.
Eve and Mme. Chardon burst into tears. To be in hiding was for them a shameful thing. As for Kolb and Marion, they were more alarmed for David because they had long since made up their minds that there was no guile in their master's nature; so frightened were they on his account, that they came upstairs under pretence of asking whether they could do anything, and found Eve and Mme. Chardon in tears; the three whose life had been so straightforward hitherto were overcome by the thought that David must go into hiding. And how, moreover, could they hope to escape the invisible spies who henceforth would dog every least movement of a man, unluckily so absent-minded?
"Gif montame vill vait ein liddle kvarter hour, she can regonnoitre der enemy's camp," put in Kolb. "You shall see dot I oonderstand mein pizness; for gif I look like ein German, I am ein drue Vrenchman, and vat is more, I am ver' conning."
"Oh! madame, do let him go," begged Marion. "He is only thinking of saving his master; he hasn't another thought in his head. Kolb is not an Alsacien, he is--eh! well--a regular Newfoundland dog for rescuing folk."
"Go, my good Kolb," said David; "we have still time to do something."
Kolb hurried off to pay a visit to the bailiff; and it so fell out that David's enemies were in Doublon's office, holding a council as to the best way of securing him.
The arrest of a debtor is an unheard-of thing in the country, an abnormal proceeding if ever there was one. Everybody, in the first place, knows everybody else, and creditor and debtor being bound to meet each other daily all their lives long, nobody likes to take this odious course. When a defaulter--to use the provincial term for a debtor, for they do not mince their words in the provinces when speaking of this legalized method of helping yourself to another man's goods--when a defaulter plans a failure on a large scale, he takes sanctuary in Paris. Paris is a kind of City of Refuge for provincial bankrupts, an almost impenetrable retreat; the writ of the pursuing bailiff has no force beyond the limits of his jurisdiction, and there are other obstacles rendering it almost invalid. Wherefore the Paris bailiff is empowered to enter the house of a third party to seize the person of the debtor, while for the bailiff of the provinces the domicile is absolutely inviolable. The law probably makes this exception as to Paris, because there it is the rule for two or more families to live under the same roof; but in the provinces the bailiff who wishes to make forcible entry must have an order from the Justice of the Peace; and so wide a discretion is allowed the Justice of the Peace, that he is practically able to give or withhold assistance to the bailiffs. To the honor of the Justices, it should be said, that they dislike the office, and are by no means anxious to assist blind passions or revenge.
There are, besides, other and no less serious difficulties in the way of arrest for debt--difficulties which tend to temper the severity of legislation, and public opinion not infrequently makes a dead letter of the law. In great cities there are poor or degraded wretches enough; poverty and vice know no scruples, and consent to play the spy, but in a little country town, people know each other too well to earn wages of the bailiff; the meanest creature who should lend himself to dirty work of this kind would be forced to leave the place.
In the absence of recognized machinery, therefore, the arrest of a debtor is a problem presenting no small difficulty; it becomes a kind of strife of ingenuity between the bailiff and the debtor, and matter for many pleasant stories in the newspapers.
Cointet the elder did not choose to appear in the affair; but the fat Cointet openly said that he was acting for Metivier, and went to Doublon, taking Cerizet with him. Cerizet was his foreman now, and had promised his co-operation in return for a thousand-franc note. Doublon could reckon upon two of his understrappers, and thus the Cointets had four bloodhounds already on the victim's track. At the actual time of arrest, Doublon could furthermore count upon the police force, who are bound, if required, to assist a bailiff in the performance of his duty. The two men, Doublon himself, and the visitors were all closeted together in the private office, beyond the public office, on the ground floor.
A tolerably wide-paved lobby, a kind of passage-way, led to the public office. The gilded scutcheons of the court, with the word "Bailiff"
printed thereon in large black letters, hung outside on the house wall on either side the door. Both office windows gave upon the street, and were protected by heavy iron bars; but the private office looked into the garden at the back, wherein Doublon, an adorer of Pomona, grew espaliers with marked success. Opposite the office door you beheld the door of the kitchen, and, beyond the kitchen, the staircase that ascended to the first story. The house was situated in a narrow street at the back of the new Law Courts, then in process of construction, and only finished after 1830.--These details are necessary if Kolb's adventures are to be intelligible to the reader.
It was Kolb's idea to go to the bailiff, to pretend to be willing to betray his master, and in this way to discover the traps which would be laid for David. Kolb told the servant who opened the door that he wanted to speak to M. Doublon on business. The servant was busy washing up her plates and dishes, and not very well pleased at Kolb's interruption; she pushed open the door of the outer office, and bade him wait there till her master was at liberty; then, as he was a stranger to her, she told the master in the private office that "a man" wanted to speak to him. Now, "a man" so invariably means "a peasant," that Doublon said, "Tell him to wait," and Kolb took a seat close to the door of the private office. There were voices talking within.
"Ah, by the by, how do you mean to set about it? For, if we can catch him to-morrow, it will be so much time saved." It was the fat Cointet who spoke.
"Nothing easier; the gaffer has come fairly by his nickname," said Cerizet.
At the sound of the fat Cointet's voice, Kolb guessed at once that they were talking about his master, especially as the sense of the words began to dawn upon him; but, when he recognized Cerizet's tones, his astonishment grew more and more.
"Und dat fellow haf eaten his pread!" he thought, horror-stricken.
"We must do it in this way, boys," said Doublon. "We will post our men, at good long intervals, about the Rue de Beaulieu and the Place du Murier in every direction, so that we can follow the gaffer (I like that word) without his knowledge. We will not lose sight of him until he is safe inside the house where he means to lie in hiding (as he thinks); there we will leave him in peace for awhile; then some fine day we will come across him before sunrise or sunset."
"But what is he doing now, at this moment? He may be slipping through our fingers," said the fat Cointet.
"He is in his house," answered Doublon; "if he left it, I should know.
I have one witness posted in the Place du Murier, another at the corner of the Law Courts, and another thirty paces from the house. If our man came out, they would whistle; he could not make three paces from his door but I should know of it at once from the signal."
(Bailiffs speak of their understrappers by the polite title of
Here was better hap than Kolb had expected! He went noiselessly out of the office, and spoke to the maid in the kitchen.
"Meestair Touplon ees encaged for som time to kom," he said; "I vill kom back early to-morrow morning."
A sudden idea had struck the Alsacien, and he proceeded to put it into execution. Kolb had served in a cavalry regiment; he hurried off to see a livery stable-keeper, an acquaintance of his, picked out a horse, had it saddled, and rushed back to the Place du Murier. He found Madame Eve in the lowest depths of despondency.
"What is it, Kolb?" asked David, when the Alsacien's face looked in upon them, scared but radiant.
"You have scountrels all arount you. De safest way ees to hide de master. Haf montame thought of hiding the master anywheres?"
When Kolb, honest fellow, had explained the whole history of Cerizet's treachery, of the circle traced about the house, and of the fat Cointet's interest in the affair, and given the family some inkling of the schemes set on foot by the Cointets against the master,--then David's real position gradually became fatally clear.
"It is the Cointet's doing!" cried poor Eve, aghast at the news; "THEY
are proceeding against you! that accounts for Metivier's hardness. . . . They are paper-makers--David! they want your secret!"
"But what can we do to escape them?" exclaimed Mme. Chardon.
"If de misdress had some liddle blace vere the master could pe hidden," said Kolb; "I bromise to take him dere so dot nopody shall know."
"Wait till nightfall, and go to Basine Clerget," said Eve. "I will go now and arrange it all with her. In this case, Basine will be like another self to me."
"Spies will follow you," David said at last, recovering some presence of mind. "How can we find a way of communicating with Basine if none of us can go to her?"
"Montame kan go," said Kolb. "Here ees my scheme--I go out mit der master, ve draws der vischtlers on our drack. Montame kan go to Montemoiselle Clerchet; nopody vill vollow her. I haf a horse; I take de master oop behint; und der teufel is in it if they katches us."
"Very well; good-bye, dear," said poor Eve, springing to her husband's arms; "none of us can go to see you, the risk is too great. We must say good-bye for the whole time that your imprisonment lasts. We will write to each other; Basine will post your letters, and I will write under cover to her."
No sooner did David and Kolb come out of the house than they heard a sharp whistle, and were followed to the livery stable. Once there, Kolb took his master up behind him, with a caution to keep tight hold.
"Veestle avay, mind goot vriends! I care not von rap," cried Kolb.
"You vill not datch an old trooper," and the old cavalry man clapped both spurs to his horse, and was out into the country and the darkness not merely before the spies could follow, but before they had time to discover the direction that he took.
Eve meanwhile went out on the tolerably ingenious pretext of asking advise of Postel, sat awhile enduring the insulting pity that spends itself in words, left the Postel family, and stole away unseen to Basine Clerget, told her troubles, and asked for help and shelter.
Basine, for greater safety, had brought Eve into her bedroom, and now she opened the door of a little closet, lighted only by a skylight in such a way that prying eyes could not see into it. The two friends unstopped the flue which opened into the chimney of the stove in the workroom, where the girls heated their irons. Eve and Basine spread ragged coverlets over the brick floor to deaden any sound that David might make, put in a truckle bed, a stove for his experiments, and a table and a chair. Basine promised to bring food in the night; and as no one had occasion to enter her room, David might defy his enemies one and all, or even detectives.
"At last!" Eve said, with her arms about her friend, "at last he is in safety."
Eve went back to Postel to submit a fresh doubt that had occurred to her, she said. She would like the opinion of such an experienced member of the Chamber of Commerce; she so managed that he escorted her home, and listened patiently to his commiseration.
"Would this have happened if you had married me?"--all the little druggist's remarks were pitched in this key.
Then he went home again to find Mme. Postel jealous of Mme. Sechard, and furious with her spouse for his polite attention to that beautiful woman. The apothecary advanced the opinion that little red-haired women were preferable to tall, dark women, who, like fine horses, were always in the stable, he said. He gave proofs of his sincerity, no doubt, for Mme. Postel was very sweet to him next day.
"We may be easy," Eve said to her mother and Marion, whom she found still "in a taking," in the latter's phrase.
"Oh! they are gone," said Marion, when Eve looked unthinkingly round the room.
One league out of Angouleme on the main road to Paris, Kolb stopped.
"Vere shall we go?"
"To Marsac," said David; "since we are on the way already, I will try once more to soften my father's heart."
"I would rader mount to der assault of a pattery," said Kolb, "your resbected fader haf no heart whatefer."
The ex-pressman had no belief in his son; he judged him from the outside point of view, and waited for results. He had no idea, to begin with, that he had plundered David, nor did he make allowance for the very different circumstances under which they had begun life; he said to himself, "I set him up with a printing-house, just as I found it myself; and he, knowing a thousand times more than I did, cannot keep it going." He was mentally incapable of understanding his son; he laid the blame of failure upon him, and even prided himself, as it were on his superiority to a far greater intellect than his own, with the thought, "I am securing his bread for him."
Moralists will never succeed in making us comprehend the full extent of the influence of sentiment upon self-interest, an influence every whit as strong as the action of interest upon our sentiments; for every law of our nature works in two ways, and acts and reacts upon us.
David, on his side, understood his father, and in his sublime charity forgave him. Kolb and David reached Marsac at eight o'clock, and suddenly came in upon the old man as he was finishing his dinner, which, by force of circumstances, came very near bedtime.
"I see you because there is no help for it," said old Sechard with a sour smile.
"Und how should you and mein master meet? He soars in der shkies, and you are always mit your vines! You bay for him, that's vot you are a fader for----"
"Come, Kolb, off with you. Put up the horse at Mme. Courtois' so as to save inconvenience here; fathers are always in the right, remember that."
Kolb went off, growling like a chidden dog, obedient but protesting; and David proposed to give his father indisputable proof of his discovery, while reserving his secret. He offered to give him an interest in the affair in return for money paid down; a sufficient sum to release him from his present difficulties, with or without a further amount of capital to be employed in developing the invention.
"And how are you going to prove to me that you can make good paper that costs nothing out of nothing, eh?" asked the ex-printer, giving his son a glance, vinous, it may be, but keen, inquisitive, and covetous; a look like a flash of lightning from a sodden cloud; for the old "bear," faithful to his traditions, never went to bed without a nightcap, consisting of a couple of bottles of excellent old wine, which he "tippled down" of an evening, to use his own expression.
"Nothing simpler," said David; "I have none of the paper about me, for I came here to be out of Doublon's way; and having come so far, I thought I might as well come to you at Marsac as borrow of a money-lender. I have nothing on me but my clothes. Shut me up somewhere on the premises, so that nobody can come in and see me at work, and----"
"What? you will not let me see you at your work then?" asked the old man, with an ugly look at his son.
"You have given me to understand plainly, father, that in matters of business there is no question of father and son----"
"Ah! you distrust the father that gave you life!"
"No; the other father who took away the means of earning a livelihood."
"Each for himself, you are right!" said the old man. "Very good, I will put you in the cellar."
"I will go down there with Kolb. You must let me have a large pot for my pulp," said David; then he continued, without noticing the quick look his father gave him,--"and you must find artichoke and asparagus stalks for me, and nettles, and the reeds that you cut by the stream side, and to-morrow morning I will come out of your cellar with some splendid paper."
"If you can do that," hiccoughed the "bear," "I will let you have, perhaps--I will see, that is, if I can let you have--pshaw! twenty-five thousand francs. On condition, mind, that you make as much for me every year."
"Put me to the proof, I am quite willing," cried David. "Kolb! take the horse and go to Mansle, quick, buy a large hair sieve for me of a cooper, and some glue of the grocer, and come back again as soon as you can."
"There! drink," said old Sechard, putting down a bottle of wine, a loaf, and the cold remains of the dinner. "You will need your strength. I will go and look for your bits of green stuff; green rags you use for your pulp, and a trifle too green, I am afraid."
Two hours later, towards eleven o'clock that night, David and Kolb took up their quarters in a little out-house against the cellar wall; they found the floor paved with runnel tiles, and all the apparatus used in Angoumois for the manufacture of Cognac brandy.
"Pans and firewood! Why, it is as good as a factory made on purpose!"
"Very well, good-night," said old Sechard; "I shall lock you in, and let both the dogs loose; nobody will bring you any paper, I am sure.
You show me those sheets to-morrow, and I give you my word I will be your partner and the business will be straightforward and properly managed."
David and Kolb, locked into the distillery, spent nearly two hours in macerating the stems, using a couple of logs for mallets. The fire blazed up, the water boiled. About two o'clock in the morning, Kolb heard a sound which David was too busy to notice, a kind of deep breath like a suppressed hiccough. Snatching up one of the two lighted dips, he looked round the walls, and beheld old Sechard's empurpled countenance filling up a square opening above a door hitherto hidden by a pile of empty casks in the cellar itself. The cunning old man had brought David and Kolb into his underground distillery by the outer door, through which the casks were rolled when full. The inner door had been made so that he could roll his puncheons straight from the cellar into the distillery, instead of taking them round through the yard.
"Aha! thees eies not fair blay, you vant to shvindle your son!" cried the Alsacien. "Do you kow vot you do ven you trink ein pottle of vine?
You gif goot trink to ein bad scountrel."
"Oh, father!" cried David.
"I came to see if you wanted anything," said old Sechard, half sobered by this time.
"Und it was for de inderest vot you take in us dot you brought der liddle ladder!" commented Kolb, as he pushed the casks aside and flung open the door; and there, in fact, on a short step-ladder, the old man stood in his shirt.
"Risking your health!" said David.
"I think I must be walking in my sleep," said old Sechard, coming down in confusion. "Your want of confidence in your father set me dreaming; I dreamed you were making a pact with the Devil to do impossible things."
"Der teufel," said Kolb; "dot is your own bassion for de liddle goldfinches."
"Go back to bed again, father," said David; "lock us in if you will, but you may save yourself the trouble of coming down again. Kolb will mount guard."
At four o'clock in the morning David came out of the distillery; he had been careful to leave no sign of his occupation behind him; but he brought out some thirty sheets of paper that left nothing to be desired in fineness, whiteness, toughness, and strength, all of them bearing by way of water-mark the impress of the uneven hairs of the sieve. The old man took up the samples and put his tongue to them, the lifelong habit of the pressman, who tests papers in this way. He felt it between his thumb and finger, crumpled and creased it, put it through all the trials by which a printer assays the quality of a sample submitted to him, and when it was found wanting in no respect, he still would not allow that he was beaten.
"We have yet to know how it takes an impression," he said, to avoid praising his son.
"Funny man!" exclaimed Kolb.
The old man was cool enough now. He cloaked his feigned hesitation with paternal dignity.
"I wish to tell you in fairness, father, that even now it seems to me that paper costs more than it ought to do; I want to solve the problem of sizing it in the pulping-trough. I have just that one improvement to make."
"Oho! so you are trying to trick me!"
"Well, shall I tell you? I can size the pulp as it is, but so far I cannot do it evenly, and the surface is as rough as a burr!"
"Very good, size your pulp in the trough, and you shall have my money."
"Mein master will nefer see de golor of your money," declared Kolb.
"Father," he began, "I have never borne you any grudge for making over the business to me at such an exorbitant valuation; I have seen the father through it all. I have said to myself--'The old man has worked very hard, and he certainly gave me a better bringing up than I had a right to expect; let him enjoy the fruits of his toil in peace, and in his own way.--I even gave up my mother's money to you. I began encumbered with debt, and bore all the burdens that you put upon me without a murmur. Well, harassed for debts that were not of my making, with no bread in the house, and my feet held to the flames, I have found out the secret. I have struggled on patiently till my strength is exhausted. It is perhaps your duty to help me, but do not give ME a thought; think of a woman and a little one" (David could not keep back the tears at this); "think of them, and give them help and protection.
--Kolb and Marion have given me their savings; will you do less?" he cried at last, seeing that his father was as cold as the impression-stone.
"And that was not enough for you," said the old man, without the slightest sense of shame; "why, you would waste the wealth of the Indies! Good-night! I am too ignorant to lend a hand in schemes got up on purpose to exploit me. A monkey will never gobble down a bear"
(alluding to the workshop nicknames); "I am a vinegrower, I am not a banker. And what is more, look you, business between father and son never turns out well. Stay and eat your dinner here; you shan't say that you came for nothing."
There are some deep-hearted natures that can force their own pain down into inner depths unsuspected by those dearest to them; and with them, when anguish forces its way to the surface and is visible, it is only after a mighty upheaval. David's nature was one of these. Eve had thoroughly understood the noble character of the man. But now that the depths had been stirred, David's father took the wave of anguish that passed over his son's features for a child's trick, an attempt to "get round" his father, and his bitter grief for mortification over the failure of the attempt. Father and son parted in anger.
David and Kolb reached Angouleme on the stroke of midnight. They came back on foot, and steathily, like burglars. Before one o'clock in the morning David was installed in the impenetrable hiding-place prepared by his wife in Basine Clerget's house. No one saw him enter it, and the pity that henceforth should shelter David was the most resourceful pity of all--the pity of a work-girl.
Kolb bragged that day that he had saved his master on horseback, and only left him in a carrier's van well on the way to Limoges. A sufficient provision of raw material had been laid up in Basine's cellar, and Kolb, Marion, Mme. Sechard, and her mother had no communication with the house.
Two days after the scene at Marsac, old Sechard came hurrying to Angouleme and his daughter-in-law. Covetousness had brought him. There were three clear weeks ahead before the vintage began, and he thought he would be on the look-out for squalls, to use his own expression. To this end he took up his quarters in one of the attics which he had reserved by the terms of the lease, wilfully shutting his eyes to the bareness and want that made his son's home desolate. If they owed him rent, they could well afford to keep him. He ate his food from a tinned iron plate, and made no marvel at it. "I began in the same way," he told his daughter-in-law, when she apologized for the absence of silver spoons.
Marion was obliged to run into debt for necessaries for them all. Kolb was earning a franc for daily wage as a brick-layer's laborer; and at last poor Eve, who, for the sake of her husband and child, had sacrificed her last resources to entertain David's father, saw that she had only ten francs left. She had hoped to the last to soften the old miser's heart by her affectionate respect, and patience, and pretty attentions; but old Sechard was obdurate as ever. When she saw him turn the same cold eyes on her, the same look that the Cointets had given her, and Petit-Claud and Cerizet, she tried to watch and guess old Sechard's intentions. Trouble thrown away! Old Sechard, never sober, never drunk, was inscrutable; intoxication is a double veil. If the old man's tipsiness was sometimes real, it was quite often feigned for the purpose of extracting David's secret from his wife. Sometimes he coaxed, sometimes he frightened his daughter-in-law.
"I will drink up my property; I WILL BUY AN ANNUITY," he would threaten when Eve told him that she knew nothing.
The humiliating struggle was wearing her out; she kept silence at last, lest she should show disrespect to her husband's father.
"But, father," she said one day when driven to extremity, "there is a very simple way of finding out everything. Pay David's debts; he will come home, and you can settle it between you."
"Ha! that is what you want to get out of me, is it?" he cried. "It is as well to know!"
But if Sechard had no belief in his son, he had plenty of faith in the Cointets. He went to consult them, and the Cointets dazzled him of set purpose, telling him that his son's experiments might mean millions of francs.
"If David can prove that he has succeeded, I shall not hesitate to go into partnership with him, and reckon his discovery as half the capital," the tall Cointet told him.
The suspicious old man learned a good deal over nips of brandy with the work-people, and something more by questioning Petit-Claud and feigning stupidity; and at length he felt convinced that the Cointets were the real movers behind Metivier; they were plotting to ruin Sechard's printing establishment, and to lure him (Sechard) on to pay his son's debts by holding out the discovery as a bait. The old man of the people did not suspect that Petit-Claud was in the plot, nor had he any idea of the toils woven to ensnare the great secret. A day came at last when he grew angry and out of patience with the daughter-in-law who would not so much as tell him where David was hiding; he determined to force the laboratory door, for he had discovered that David was wont to make his experiments in the workshop where the rollers were melted down.
He came downstairs very early one morning and set to work upon the lock.
"Hey! Papa Sechard, what are you doing there?" Marion called out. (She had risen at daybreak to go to her papermill, and now she sprang across to the workshop.)
"I am in my own house, am I not?" said the old man, in some confusion.
"Oh, indeed, are you turning thief in your old age? You are not drunk this time either----I shall go straight to the mistress and tell her."
"Hold your tongue, Marion," said Sechard, drawing two crowns of six francs each from his pocket. "There----"
"I will hold my tongue, but don't you do it again," said Marion, shaking her finger at him, "or all Angouleme shall hear of it."
The old man had scarcely gone out, however, when Marion went up to her mistress.
"Look, madame," she said, "I have had twelve francs out of your father-in-law, and here they are----"
"How did you do it?"
"What was he wanting to do but to take a look at the master's pots and pans and stuff, to find out the secret, forsooth. I knew quite well that there was nothing in the little place, but I frightened him and talked as if he were setting about robbing his son, and he gave me twelve francs to say nothing about it."
Just at that moment Basine came in radiant, and with a letter for her friend, a letter from David written on magnificent paper, which she handed over when they were alone.
"MY ADORED EVE,--I am writing to you the first letter on my first sheet of paper made by the new process. I have solved the problem of sizing the pulp in the trough at last. A pound of pulp costs five sous, even supposing that the raw material is grown on good soil with special culture; three francs' worth of sized pulp will make a ream of paper, at twelve pounds to the ream. I am quite sure that I can lessen the weight of books by one-half. The envelope, the letter, and samples enclosed are all manufactured in different ways. I kiss you; you shall have wealth now to add to our happiness, everything else we had before."
"There!" said Eve, handing the samples to her father-in-law, "when the vintage is over let your son have the money, give him a chance to make his fortune, and you shall be repaid ten times over; he has succeeded at last!"
Old Sechard hurried at once to the Cointets. Every sample was tested and minutely examined; the prices, from three to ten francs per ream, were noted on each separate slip; some were sized, others unsized; some were of almost metallic purity, others soft as Japanese paper; in color there was every possible shade of white. If old Sechard and the two Cointets had been Jews examining diamonds, their eyes could not have glistened more eagerly.
"Your son is on the right track," the fat Cointet said at length.
"Very well, pay his debts," returned old Sechard.
"By all means, if he will take us into partnership," said the tall Cointet.
"You are extortioners!" cried old Sechard. "You have been suing him under Metivier's name, and you mean me to buy you off; that is the long and the short of it. Not such a fool, gentlemen----"
The brothers looked at one another, but they contrived to hide their surprise at the old miser's shrewdness.
"We are not millionaires," said fat Cointet; "we do not discount bills for amusement. We should think ourselves well off if we could pay ready money for our bits of accounts for rags, and we still give bills to our dealer."
"The experiment ought to be tried first on a much larger scale," the tall Cointet said coldly; "sometimes you try a thing with a saucepan and succeed, and fail utterly when you experiment with bulk. You should help your son out of difficulties."
"Yes; but when my son is at liberty, would he take me as his partner?"
"That is no business of ours," said the fat Cointet. "My good man, do you suppose that when you have paid some ten thousand francs for your son, that there is an end of it? It will cost two thousand francs to take out a patent; there will be journeys to Paris; and before going to any expense, it would be prudent to do as my brother suggests, and make a thousand reams or so; to try several whole batches to make sure. You see, there is nothing you must be so much on your guard against as an inventor."
"I have a liking for bread ready buttered myself," added the tall Cointet.
All through that night the old man ruminated over this dilemma--"If I pay David's debts, he will be set at liberty, and once set at liberty, he need not share his fortune with me unless he chooses. He knows very well that I cheated him over the first partnership, and he will not care to try a second; so it is to my interest to keep him shut up, the wretched boy."
The Cointets knew enough of Sechard senior to see that they should hunt in couples. All three said to themselves--"Experiments must be tried before the discovery can take any practical shape. David Sechard must be set at liberty before those experiments can be made; and David Sechard, set at liberty, will slip through our fingers."
Everybody involved, moreover, had his own little afterthought.
Petit-Claud, for instance, said, "As soon as I am married, I will slip my neck out of the Cointets' yoke; but till then I shall hold on."
The tall Cointet thought, "I would rather have David under lock and key, and then I should be master of the situation."
Old Sechard, too, thought, "If I pay my son's debts, he will repay me with a 'Thank you!' "
Eve, hard pressed (for the old man threatened now to turn her out of the house), would neither reveal her husband's hiding-place, nor even send proposals of a safe-conduct. She could not feel sure of finding so safe a refuge a second time.
"Set your son at liberty," she told her father-in-law, "and then you shall know everything."
The four interested persons sat, as it were, with a banquet spread before them, none of them daring to begin, each one suspicious and watchful of his neighbor. A few days after David went into hiding, Petit-Claud went to the mill to see the tall Cointet.
"I have done my best," he said; "David has gone into prison of his own accord somewhere or other; he is working out some improvement there in peace. It is no fault of mine if you have not gained your end; are you going to keep your promise?"
"Yes, if we succeed," said the tall Cointet. "Old Sechard was here only a day or two ago; he came to ask us some questions as to papermaking. The old miser has got wind of his son's invention; he wants to turn it to his own account, so there is some hope of a partnership.
You are with the father and the son----"
"Be the third person in the trinity and give them up," smiled Petit-Claud.
"Yes," said Cointet. "When you have David in prison, or bound to us by a deed of partnership, you shall marry Mlle. de la Haye."
"Is that your ultimatum?"
"My sine qua non," said Cointet, "since we are speaking in foreign languages."
"Then here is mine in plain language," Petit-Claud said drily.
"Ah! let us have it," answered Cointet, with some curiosity.
"You will present me to-morrow to Mme. de Sononches, and do something definite for me; you will keep your word, in short; or I will clear off Sechard's debts myself, sell my practice, and go into partnership with him. I will not be duped. You have spoken out, and I am doing the same. I have given proof, give me proof of your sincerity. You have all, and I have nothing. If you won't do fairly by me, I know your cards, and I shall play for my own hand."
The tall Cointet took his hat and umbrella, his face at the same time taking its Jesuitical expression, and out he went, bidding Petit-Claud come with him.
"You shall see, my friend, whether I have prepared your way for you,"
The shrewd paper-manufacturer saw his danger at a glance; and saw, too, that with a man like Petit-Claud it was better to play above board. Partly to be prepared for contingencies, partly to satisfy his conscience, he had dropped a word or two to the point in the ear of the ex-consul-general, under the pretext of putting Mlle. de la Haye's financial position before that gentleman.
"I have the man for Francoise," he had said; "for with thirty thousand francs of dot, a girl must not expect too much nowadays."
"We will talk it over later on," answered Francis du Hautoy, ex-consul-general. "Mme. de Senonches' positon has altered very much since Mme. de Bargeton went away; we very likely might marry Francoise to some elderly country gentleman."
"She would disgrace herself if you did," Cointet returned in his dry way. "Better marry her to some capable, ambitious young man; you could help him with your influence, and he would make a good position for his wife."
"We shall see," said Francis du Hautoy; "her godmother ought to be consulted first, in any case."
When M. de Bargeton died, his wife sold the great house in the Rue du Minage. Mme. de Senonches, finding her own house scarcely large enough, persuaded M. de Senonches to buy the Hotel de Bargeton, the cradle of Lucien Chardon's ambitions, the scene of the earliest events in his career. Zephirine de Senonches had it in mind to succeed to Mme. de Bargeton; she, too, would be a kind of queen in Angouleme; she would have "a salon," and be a great lady, in short. There was a schism in Angouleme, a strife dating from the late M. de Bargeton's duel with M. de Chandour. Some maintained that Louise de Negrepelisse was blameless, others believed in Stanislas de Chandour's scandals.
Mme. de Senonches declared for the Bargetons, and began by winning over that faction. Many frequenters of the Hotel de Bargeton had been so accustomed for years to their nightly game of cards in the house that they could not leave it, and Mme. de Senonches turned this fact to account. She received every evening, and certainly gained all the ground lost by Amelie de Chandour, who set up for a rival.
Francis du Hautoy, living in the inmost circle of nobility in Angouleme, went so far as to think of marrying Francoise to old M. de Severac, Mme. du Brossard having totally failed to capture that gentleman for her daughter; and when Mme. de Bargeton reappeared as the prefect's wife, Zephirine's hopes for her dear goddaughter waxed high, indeed. The Comtesse du Chatelet, so she argued, would be sure to use her influence for her champion.